Tighter screening at ports urged as new Covid sub-variant BF.7 detected
The highly contagious new Omicron sub-variant BF.7 of the coronavirus has been detected in the country, prompting experts to recommend intensifying screening measures at all land and air ports.
They also recommended an emphasis on infection prevention at hospitals after the presence of the new variant had been found in one of the four Covid-19 infected Chinese citizens, who recently arrived in Bangladesh from China.
The presence of Omicron sub-variant BF.7 was confirmed in the genome sequence report of the Chinese citizen, Institute of Epidemiology, Dr Tahmina Shirin, director of the Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), told the media on Sunday afternoon.
On 26 December, the four passengers from China tested positive for Covid-19 antigen at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. They were then sent to the Mohakhali DNCC Hospital for isolation.
Professor Dr Nazmul Islam, director of disease control at the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), told The Business Standard that the Chinese nationals were doing well and will be discharged after they test negative.
Dr M Mushtuq Husain, an IEDCR adviser, said it is important to emphasise infection prevention in hospitals to prevent the spread of BF.7 sub-variant.
"Hospitals, vaccine centres and Covid testing centres should ensure that infection prevention methods are in place, such as cleanliness, floor-washroom cleanliness, wearing masks, hand washing with soap. Because the disease spreads more from the hospital," Dr M Mushtuq Husain told The Business Standard.
"We are serious about borders but less attention is paid to preventing the spread of infections in hospitals," he added.
"Every hospital has an infection prevention committee headed by a director and it should be ensured that the committee reviews the issue of infection prevention every day," stressed Dr Mushtuq Husain.
He pointed out that there is a risk of infection increasing in February and urged those who have not taken all their vaccine doses to immediately take the required jabs.
BF.7 is a sub-lineage of the Omicron variant BA.5. It is a highly transmissible variant with a shorter incubation period. The variant also has a higher capacity to cause reinfection and can even infect vaccinated individuals.
The BF.7 variant has 4.4-fold higher neutralisation resistance than the original Wuhan virus - meaning the antibodies from the vaccination are not effective enough against the virus, said a study published in the journal Cell Host and Microbe.
It also presents symptoms similar to upper respiratory infection including fever, sore throat, runny nose and cough.
Stomach-related issues including diarrhoea and vomiting may also be symptoms. While the variant may not lead to any severe complications, it can spread faster.
The virus is surging in China, it has been found in the United States, Denmark, Germany, France, and India.
Dr Nazmul Islam, also DGHS spokesperson, said that Bangladesh, like other countries, is prepared to tackle the transmission of the BF.7 sub-variant.
"We have alerted the ports already. As we cannot predict the port of entry of BF.7 infected patients, vigilance must increase at all ports to ensure no one is missed. Meanwhile, the hospitals have been asked to be ready," he said, urging people with pending vaccine jabs to finish the doses.